16 August 2011

Cold Cuisine

In the late 1970' and 1980's, Helen Hecht wrote a series of lovely cookbooks, including Cold Cuisine. The book has a lot of salads and soups and refreshing deserts. As with most old cookbooks, it is a product of its era. Cold Cuisine is very much a a regular book, a simple octavo unadorned by photos and thus very different from the vast majority of the cookbooks published today. Perhaps the grand size and all those colored pictures are simply a mask to conceal the actual recipes. I know it seems much easier to cook from a photo than from the blank canvas of a printed recipe, but in time those photos will be as dated as avocado appliance. In the end, it is the recipes that make the book.

Helen Hecht writes of cold cuisine:

"The appearance of a dish is especially important in the summer. While a steaming hot cassoulet may require no further embellishment than its own enticing aroma and an appetite stimulated by winter chill, summer food must rouse appetites languishing or dormant in stifling weather. You can transform an ordinary-looking dish into something attractive and appealing with a few simple touches and an eye for color, arrangement , and detail."

It might come as no surprise that Helen Hecht was married to the poet Anthony Hecht, as her brief introduction is a poetic tribute to cuisine. When I read this recipe, it seemed to be a simple salad. That it is, but taking into consideration Hecht's description of transforming a cold weather dishes, a simple salad might just be the starting point. Before you toss a bag of lettuce into a bowl, think of how it might be transformed with tiny black olives, rich green avocado, and bursting red tomatoes.

Al Fresco Salad

8 thin slices bacon
2 ripe avocados
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 medium-size, ripe tomatoes
1 cup black pitted olives, halved
1 small Bermuda onion, peeled and sliced thin
2 ounces blue cheese, crumbled (1/2 cup)
1/2 pound fresh spinach, washed and stemmed and dried
freshly ground pepper
1 recipe of Basic Vinaigrette (below)

Sauté bacon till crisp, drain on paper towels. Peel avocados, slice into bowl and toss with lemon juice. Core the tomatoes and chop into bite-size pieces. Combine bacon, avocados, tomatoes, olives, onion, blue cheese, and spinach in a bowl. Season to taste.

Basic Vinaigrette

1 garlic clove peeled and cut in half
3/4 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons wine vinegar
Combine and let stand for several hours. Remove garlic before using.

Enjoy the last of the garden and Fall is waiting in the wings.

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